I saw the absolute cream of the crop weirdness on Saturday. It's still difficult for me to believe but I assure you that it's completely true, although disturbing in the extreme in its suggestion for the future of matchmaking and in particular, personal ads.
I was driving back from running some errands on Saturday afternoon when I saw a cardboard sign propped against the peeling white picket fence of a run down older house about half a mile from my home. The sign, written in scrawling red felt tip pen read, "Looking for a LADY! I'm 5'11, 216 lbs, athletic…" and then I had passed the sign and couldn't read anymore. The man who was looking for a LADY was, however, standing not 10 feet away from the sign in his front yard. Wearing black jeans, a gray t-shirt and (God help us) a black cowboy hat, he was leaning forward, resting his hands against the picket fence and holding a beer between his fingers. I'd say he was in his mid-forties and he was doing his best front-cover-of-a-ranch-based-romance-novel come hither look.
It was extremely bizarre.
I told Dave about the LADY-searching man when I got home, which led to a discussion of why someone might actually legitimately be doing such a thing. While I tend to lean toward laughing my ass off at such sights, willingly believing them at their most ridiculous face value, my husband is more inclined to search for an explanation that doesn't point immediately towards missed medication. Maybe the man was waiting for his girlfriend and was going to tell her she was the lady he'd been waiting all his life for, Dave suggested. That's certainly a romantic notion, and I like the romance… but I wasn't buying it. Perhaps, Dave posited, the guy had seen a woman drive or jog by and, hoping she would pass again, was standing sentinel so that he could strike up conversation with this vision of loveliness when she next appeared. There's a little romance in that notion too, but mostly it verges on stalker territory and I didn't want to consider that.
No, I said, I think he was seriously standing outside hoping to garner just any passing woman's attention. And I admit that I was tempted momentarily to stop just to see what the hell was going on. Purely a journalistic interest I assure you, because first off I'm not looking, but even if I was, there were myriad other problems to overcome. I am not into the cowboy hat wearing segment of our population, no matter how rugged and manly they appear. Cowboy hats make me think of horse sweat and dust, neither of which memories send any heat to my loins. Far more seriously, though, there was the outdoor personal ad situation to contend with. I've never been impressed or tempted by personal ads in any case, but how much less so a man so cheap as to place a personal ad not in a newspaper but on his own dried up front lawn? That reeks of desperation. Creative desperation, I'll give him that, but desperation all the same.
The LADY Searcher stayed on my mind for quite a while. Actually, the man himself I wouldn't have been able to identify in a line-up of one, because he didn't make that much of an impression in and of himself (although if he was wearing the cowboy hat I'd have had at least a 50-50 shot). It was the concept that stayed with me. Hand-writing a sign for your front lawn - in text too small to really read when driving by at the speed limit - and then standing beside it with a beer in your hand, hoping for the woman (excuse me, LADY) of your dreams to not only happen by, but also stop… it just seems unlikely, you know? It presupposes that your soul mate will happen to be on that street… on that day… and doesn't mind your beer breath. I imagine that last aspect appeals to many men, but still, the dream seems too farfetched to me.
The lawn ad is certainly original, but it's really the personal ad as a whole that confuses me. The entire idea of summarizing yourself in a few lines of text and hoping that it's enough to catch the eye of someone you could love seems pretty extreme. The hopefulness and, simultaneously, the sadness of it just gets me. I don't believe for a second that "5'6", Italian decent, good sense of humor, loves animals, looking for a funny man to share good times, laughter, maybe love with" would ever have been enough to describe me when I was single. It's ridiculous. And yet the other side of me says, well isn't that what happens when we first meet someone and take in their vital stats? Height, coloring, nice eyes or hands or shins or whatever body part you're into… if it's enough to keep your interest then you get down to the work of learning about more than just the packaging. If the packaging of a potential mate was accurately described to you, couldn't you just skip all the dancing around and get to the work? It might save some time.
But now it's not enough to place a personal ad that simply outlines what you look like and your major defining characteristics. I mean, you can't just say "Tall, good looking and athletic" because that's sort of a given. We assume you either actually are tall, good looking and athletic or you think you are. You're placing a personal ad so you're going to tell us that you're tall, handsome and athletic even if you need a box to stand on when you vote, frighten small children at the airport and your idea of exercise is flipping the TV from the bowling channel to the golf channel. These days you have to be creative. You need a hook. The first line of a personal ad can't just be your height, weight and eye color. Now it has to be something akin to the opening line of a Shakespeare soliloquy. "Hoping against hope…" or "Waiting for my ship to come in with you as a passenger…"
Which is all very well and good if you're looking for a mate who's that easy to impress. Personally speaking, I find these sorts of lines immensely cheesy. I look at these blind stabs in the dark that attempt to impress and just laugh and laugh because they're so transparent. No matter how lonely I've ever been in my life, I've never been tempted to contact anyone who was "wishing on a star" or "wandering the path of life alone… til you brighten the road." Definitely vomit inducing. It's one thing to put yourself on the line in the hopes of finding love and quite another to sound like a flowery Hallmark card while you do it.
I've been trying to think of what my own personal ad would sound like if I were ever held at gunpoint and forced to submit one (because only the threat of bodily harm could possibly induce me to do such a thing). I assume that "If you can't put up with Disney don't bother" might not be the most welcoming introduction. On the other hand, "Me - three cats and a dog. You - no allergies" is probably too up-front. You don't want to scare anyone away… I think. In all actuality if I were forced to put together a personal ad I'd most likely want to scare everyone away because those who are looking for the next Mrs. Ex-wife in the personals are not the types I'd be willing to go to dinner with. I'd be better off looking at the public library for a date.
Everything I come up with is at least a little off-putting, since I don't believe in the miracle of personal ads in the first place. "Snarky, cynical woman looking for same in male form" is only going to appeal to the assholes who think they're clever but are really just nasty. "If you're really rich let's talk, but bring a bank statement and two forms of ID" is right up my alley but probably not up the alleys of any potential responders. "Vodka martinis or Heineken? Yes, this is a test" would only bring out the alcoholics, not the James Bonds of the audience. And "A little bit punk, a little bit rock and roll" would result in every schizophrenic on the block trying to get in contact.
On the whole I just can't imagine that personal ads in any form are worth the effort. I know there are many people who have met, had great relationships, possibly married and had great results from personals. I'd be interested in seeing the ads that lead to some of these great matches because I'd be willing to bet that the cheese factor was pretty low in them. Of course, if you married a guy whose personal ad mentioned his "search for a love as big as my heart" you have my sympathies. Most of you had my sympathies to begin with.
On Sunday evening Dave and I were driving home from a bar-b-que and low and behold there was the man searching for a LADY again. Still with his sign, still with a beer in his hand. I certainly hope it wasn't the same beer. Apparently no ladies of caliber had been struck by his presence and stopped to chat him up. I have to wonder how long he'll be willing to stand out there. In the search for true love you have to be willing to put up with plenty of discomfort and embarrassment. It may take him a long time and a lot of beers.
I hope he finds a LADY worth the effort.
- KNP Aug 3, 2003